PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday February 26th, 2014, 3:43pm

Chicago Fast Food Workers Kick Off Campaign To Demand More Work Hours

The Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago officially launched the “More Hours Now!” campaign at a Wednesday morning protest outside of the McDonald’s at Chicago and Damen Avenues. Progress Illinois was there to learn more about the new effort.

A number of fast food employees in the Windy City are demanding more hours of work as part of a new campaign spearheaded by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC).

WOCC, a union representing Chicago fast food and retail workers, officially launched the “More Hours Now!” campaign at a Wednesday morning protest outside of the McDonald’s at Chicago and Damen Avenues.

At the protest, a group of about 40 WOCC members and workers from that McDonald’s location delivered a petition, signed by 30 of the restaurant’s employees, to the store's management. The petition demands “full-time hours, fair pay and more respect for all workers at the store.”

“We presented our petition today, and we’re demanding a meeting to sit down with the managers to discuss pretty much any issues and concerns that any workers on the petition have,” said McDonald’s worker Janah Bailey, 21. “This is just the beginning, and we’re going to fight until we get the hours.”

At WOCC’s citywide meeting last week, its members overwhelmingly said they wanted to include “more hours” on their list of primary demands as part of their Fight for 15 campaign in the city.

Those with the Fight for 15 movement, which has taken hold in cities across the country, have been pushing for the right to form a union without retaliation and a $15 minimum wage, which is an annual salary of about $31,000 — enough to cover workers' basic needs, according to organizers.

The problem of too few hours provided by fast food employers is a key reason why workers are fighting for the right to have a union without retaliation, stressed WOCC’s spokesman Deivid Rojas.

“If they had a union, they’d be able to negotiate hours, negotiate a predictable schedule,” he said.

Wednesday’s protest is the first of many slated to come this year surrounding the "More Hours Now!" campaign at fast food establishments across the city, Rojas added.

“A lot of workers are working anywhere between 10 to 25 hours,” he said. “That shift every week can be 10 [hours] one week, it could be 25 the next week. It could be none the other week … It’s not right for them not only to be living on a poverty wage, but it’s not right for them to not even get a good amount of hours.”

There are some 275,000 low-wage fast food and retail workers in the Chicago area, WOCC members said. The median hourly wage for fast food workers in Chicago is about $9.07, according to the union.

Many workers, however, earn the state's minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, or just above it, Rojas said. A full-time, minimum-wage worker in Illinois earns an annual salary of $17,160 before taxes.

Bailey, who has worked at the Chicago and Damen McDonald’s for two years, makes $8.40 an hour and typically receives 12 hours to 15 hours per week. She has had to pick up a second job -- at another Chicago fast food restaurant, the Wendy’s at Addison Street and Western Avenue -- in order to make ends meet. But even with the two jobs, Bailey said it is still “hard to survive."

“I am very under the poverty line,” she stressed, adding that she relies on food stamps to help supplement her low income.

Bailey is not the only fast food worker who has had to tap public assistance to help cover basic needs.

Low wages paid by the multi-billion dollar fast food industry forces 51 percent of Illinois' fast food workers to rely on public assistance programs to cover vital necessities, a recent report from the University of California at Berkeley found. Each year, Illinois taxpayers have to pick up a $368 million tab for those workers' public benefits. And at the national level, 52 percent of American fast food workers rely on some form of public aid, which costs taxpayers $7 billion annually.

“It’s really a ridiculous model that is forcing workers to get that second and third job and still rely on government assistance and still be struggling at the same time,” Rojas said. “This, again, is for a $200 billion industry.”

Jessica Davis, 25, another Chicago and Damen McDonald’s employee, has worked at the restaurant for four years, yet she makes only $8.98 an hour.

“I’m not getting by on $8.98, and then when I only have 10 hours a week, I’m definitely not getting by on $8.98,” she said. “Ten hours can’t even pay one bill.”

As such, Davis said she has to rely on public assistance for her housing, food and health care.

“They’re disrespecting us by thinking that we can survive off of 10 hours a (week). They’re not working 10 hours a (week) and getting $8.98 and going home and taking care of their families,” Davis said. “The wage gap is so huge in this big corporation that it shouldn’t be that way when we work hard. We’re the backbone of this company.”

McDonald's employee Devon Erves, 22, also signed the petition for more hours. It is nearly immposible, Erves said, to provide for his family, including his two year-old son, on $8.40 an hour with only about 20 hours per week.

“Some (weeks) you can only get two days on the schedule,” he said. “If I’m taking home a $200 pay check, it’s not helping anything.”

McDonald’s employees help the company rake in eye-popping profits, Erves added, yet workers “go home with nothing.” 

“Making $7,000 a year is not going to help," he said. "I just want more hours and more pay and more respect."

A manager at the Chicago and Damen McDonald’s location had no comment.  

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